Other People's Problems
by Te
January 9, 2004

Disclaimers: Warner Brothers, DC, etc., etc. I am again
playing in other people's attics.

Spoilers: Major ones for "Secret Society."

Summary: Flash goes looking for Batman and fails to
find him.

Ratings Note: PG-13.

Author's Note: Yes, this is another comic/cartoon
crossover. This time *solely* to make Tim something
other than perpetually pre-pubescent. All you need to
know is that Tim is canonically sixteen now in the
books (and probably for the next five to ten years.),
and occasionally even looks it.

Acknowledgments: To Livia, the Spike, and the Jack for
audiencing *and* negotiating the waves of mood

Feedback: Absolutely. teland793@sbcglobal.net


Tim's about midway through what will be, if he does
say so himself, a world-class beating, when he feels it.

The kind of wind that really just... *isn't*. Too warm
for the season, too strong for the weather, and, most
of all, too *personal*.

Somewhere behind him there's a person with
superspeed, but since he *is* just about due for a
random inappropriate visit from Impulse, he doesn't
worry about it. Turns around just enough to make
*sure* there isn't anything flying at his head, and then
goes back to work.

Granted, he *could* just immobilize the guy and move
on -- the punk's in his twenties and clearly *used* to
be healthy, but is also clearly an addict of long-standing --
but he'd been in the process of mugging, like, the tiniest
little old grandmother Tim had ever seen when Robin had
found him.

And also Tim's bored.

He wonders if he can get away with shattering a

Squints at the guy.

No, any more than a dislocation and the papers would
start talking about 'dangerous vigilantes' again, instead
of 'masked and mysterious heroes.'

"You're pretty much the epitome of not needing any
help, hunh?"

And that's not Impulse. Unless he got hit with
another age-ray while they weren't paying attention,
which is certainly possible, but... no, it's the Flash.
Which is... new. Tim holds the mugger up against the
wall and turns around, doing his best to look gently

"Oh, don't mind me."

Tim shrugs internally and finishes up, dragging the
mugger closer to the mouth of the alley for the actual
authorities to retrieve.

Considers shooting off a grapple and continuing
the Patrol of Boredom, but Flash is watching him.
Looking patient. You never leave a speedster alone
when they're looking patient. It's just asking for

"Uh. Can I help you?"

Flash grins at him. "I hope so. I mean, I didn't actually
know where to look for Batman, so I just wandered
around until I found some violence, but... no Bats."

Looking for Batman. Right. "Is there some kind of
emergency Justice League thing that I'll be reading
about tomorrow?" There. That didn't sound *too*

"What? Oh, no. I'm just..." Vague hand gesture, too fast
to actually make out. "You know. Visiting."

Tim looks at him.

"Wow, can you do that with both eyebrows?"

Tim demonstrates, mostly on purpose. Mostly. Visiting
*Batman*. People do that?

Flash grins at him again.

Tim shakes it off and folds his staff into the belt. "I... uh.
I don't actually know where to tell you to look, Flash."
Well, not *exactly* where.

"Separate patrols. I hear you."

And then it's one of those awkward silences, with a nice
touch of the surreal added in when the mugger starts
moaning. There's a tightness in Tim's belly, and he
realizes that he's *waiting*. For something.

If it was Impulse, there'd be a brown and yellow blur
running around him by now. Something playing with his
hair a little too hard to call a breeze.

Flash seems content to lean against the alley wall, arms
folded and utterly casual.

"I don't think Batman's going to join me," he tries.

Flash just nods, and not really *at* Tim so much as at
the alley, Gotham, and the universe in general. Either the
bits of mugger Tim left on the opposite wall are really
interesting, or Flash is staring off into space.

He reviews what he knows about the guy, and it's...
really not much. Bruce's purview, though that stopped
being a good enough reason for anything when Tim
started being Robin.


Really, his ignorance has way more to do with the fact
that he didn't even know Bruce was *building* a Tower
before he launched the thing into orbit than with
anything reasonable or mature.


Tim rubs the back of his neck. "Flash."

"How long have you been doing this? Being Robin, I
mean. There's been a Robin ever since I was a little kid,
but you can't be more than... fifteen?"

Tim knows all *sorts* of ways to get around a
speedster's natural advantages. "Sixteen."

Flash just nods again, this time staring up through the
fire escapes at the tiny available slice of Gotham night

Tim wonders when he started feeling claustrophobic on
the ground, as opposed to just... limited.

"He must be a good teacher."

"Excuse me?"

"Batman, I mean. All of you guys with no powers, no
magic accessories..."

Tim snorts and shoots off his grapple. "He already
*has* a Robin." Red one, green one, dead one, mean
one. Tim shakes it off. "Look, I'll tell him you were
looking for him. I'm --"

"Maybe I *could* do the Robin thing."

Tim blinks and bites back the first dozen responses.
Fellow good guy. Then the *next* dozen, because...
because Bruce's fucking *team-mate*. When he's got
his expression back under control, he forces himself
to look at Flash.

The man's brow is furrowed under the mask, lightning
bolts catching the gleam from streetlights and turning it
yellow and strange. He looks like the kid who forgot it
was his birthday, as opposed to just another day to

Tim sighs to himself.

"Look, if you want to talk or something..."

Flash doesn't pick up Tim's helpful slack, or even look at
him. Now he's the kid waiting to get pushed in the mud.
Which is either the best or worst *possible* time to look
for Batman.

"You can run up walls, right?"

Flash blinks at him. "Uh... yeah."

"Follow me," he says, heading up and up and up until he
can get *out*, out of the alley and into the sky.

Sometimes Tim thinks he's getting close to something up
here, something huge and momentous that he could
touch, that he could *have*, if he just stopped paying
attention to other people's problems long enough to...

It's enough that the air is better up here, if not sweeter.

And  Flash is following.

He stops them on one of his favorite apartment buildings.
It's just another project development, but Bruce Wayne
had gotten a few of his own people in on the design. It's
sturdy, and the tenants don't have to deal with a lot of
the crap their neighbors do, because Bruce's people own
the management company, too.

It's a good, flat roof, and this isn't the first time his staff
has been used to block off a door from the outside.

When he's got it braced, he looks around and sees... a
blur. Making a perfect square around the edge of the
roof, over and over.

"Checking the perimeter?" He doesn't bother to try to
look any one place.

Flash skids to a stop in front of him, looking sheepish.
That, at least, fits with the rough profile. 'Unconscious of
how others actually perceive him, for good or ill, until
such time as it's beaten into his head. "Uh. Sorry, just. A
little restless?"

Tim softens his expression and sits down tailor-style. It
wasn't hot enough today to make the roof anything but
comfortably warm. It'll fade within an hour or so, but he
doesn't intend to be here that long.

"So. You probably want to know why I'm being a freak."

Tim shrugs amiably. "I don't know you. You could be a
freak *all* the time."

Flash's smile is sharp and just a little meaner than
anything that could look remotely right on that face, cowl
and all. "That's what they call you guys, isn't it? Freaks."

"People call me a lot of things, Flash."

Short bark of laughter. "Yeah, and then you start
rearranging their internal organs."

"I didn't think I'd have to put up with a lecture on
'proper vigilante conduct' tonight," he says, as casually
as he can manage.

Flash presses his lips together and shakes his head. "No.
Not that. I'm just. Trying to figure a few things out."

Tim rolls his eyes. "Questions help."

"Do they? Really?"

"I never said I'd answer any of them, but it's gotta
work better than just talking *at* each other." Tim lies
back on the roof, folding his arms behind his head.
Unfolds his legs and bends one knee. Ostentatious, but
it's a speedster, not a Lantern. Sacrifices must be

"I didn't think you'd be so impatient."

Tim sits up on his elbow for the sole purpose of
drawing attention to his pose. And Flash is smirking at

"Yeah, I think I'm getting it now. You guys... your
little *family*. It's all about putting a show, right?"

Tim taps his chin with one finger, mock thoughtfully.
"I don't know how I missed it. All those people
wandering around the subway in red long-johns
with lightning bolts pointing at their crotches. They're
all over the place, really. Like rats. Like --"

"I get it. And... it isn't what I meant."

"I'm listening."

The look Flash gives him this time is wary, which is
both uncomfortable and, as far as Tim's concerned,
long overdue. Tim loosens his body language a little
bit. Tries.

"Really. I'm here, aren't I?"

Flash stares at him for another few moments that are
probably subjectively long enough for the man to count
the individual hairs on a portion of Tim's skull, but then
he nods.

Crouches next to him.

"How much did you hear about the League dealing with
the 'Secret Society?'"

"Other than what was on television?" Tim shrugged.
"Batman said it boiled down to mind control." And the
fact that none of you people would know an honest
thought if it bit you in the ass. "Nothing you haven't
dealt with before."

"It wasn't mind-control. Not really. Grodd... see, they
always lecture me about impulse control, you know?"

It's been a long time since 'impulse control' has meant
anything for Tim other than careful monitoring and
augmentation of Bart's diet, and the occasional dreams
of kiddie leashes. He nods anyway. "Tell me."

"It was... he just pushed us all. Not to do anything we
wouldn't normally do or say, so much as to make it
harder *not* to do or say the things we knew we
shouldn't. It was... it was really a mess."

Bruce had called it 'the most awe-inspiring display of
twelve-year-old girliness' he'd seen since the last U.N.
meeting he'd broken into. Tim says, "I can imagine."

"Can you?" Flash looks at him, open and clear. "I don't
think you've ever lost control in your life, kid."

Tim narrows his eyes. "Looking to be the first?"

Flash laughs at him, honest and loud. "And even when
you kicked my sorry ass -- and I have no doubts about
whether you could or whether you *would* -- no.
You'd still have a plan. Step by step by broken bone.
You're fine-tuning it right now, aren't you?"

"Just in case you haven't noticed? You've completely
failed to explain why you're here." He's not -- quite --
scowling at the man.

"Patience, Robin." Flash's weirdly *dark* laughter floods
the rest of his words, dirty water through a broken grate.
"I'm getting there."

Tim sits up again and scrubs a hand through his hair,
enjoying the tiny cracks of gel coming loose. "Why
don't you let me try?"

Flash's look is flat for a long, interesting moment before
his expression clears. "Go ahead."

"You said nasty things. They said nasty things. You
don't have a girlfriend, so you're not bitter about a
breakup. Unless you really were fucking the new
Lantern --"

"Shut up."

Tim makes a distinctly half-assed placating gesture. "No
friends, no team -- Batman mentioned something about
that -- and you're blaming yourself, but mostly you're
blaming them. Because, really, how could they? And
now it's all over and it was all the bad guy's fault.
Except --"

"Except for how it was nobody's fault but our own."

"Hey, Flash, I'm not saying that now isn't a great time
for a fit of existential angst. Batman has his own
rooftops, you know? He just prefers the ones with

Huffed laughter. "Atmosphere."

"Exactly. But here's the deal -- no matter how you
guys acted recently, you are, actually, professionals.
The mission comes first, and none of you are going
to forget that."

"I didn't think they would."

"Then what *were* you thinking?" And Tim makes it
sound like exactly as much of a dare as it is. He may
not be Batman, but this *is* Gotham. Flash isn't
*really* going to whine about his poor, lost

Flash stares at him hard. "I was thinking that there
were better ways... *other* ways of doing the team
thing. And that Batman would know what they were."

And... okay. That's something worth paying attention

Because if Flash is seriously looking for advice on
interpersonal relationships from *Batman*... Tim takes
a breath.

"I think I want to start over. Possibly with less of me
being an asshole."

The wary look is back, sitting a little deeper on the
man's face. And staying there. Tim's not getting off easy
this time.

"Look. I never pretended I didn't have my own issues, all
right? Everybody does. Look at it from my perspective:
some guy comes looking for my *partner*, dripping soppy
depression like something out of some freaking chick
movie --"

"You're protecting him."


"You may or may *not* know where Batman *is*, but
you're protecting him, right?"

Tim's turn to do some hard staring, but really... sometimes
there's no point. Or, well, maybe slightly less point. He
sighs, aloud this time. "He doesn't need any more trauma
than he already has."

"I... never thought of it that way."

"Keep that up, or he'll shoot me out of one of the plane's
missile bays."

Flash's smile is small and rueful, but real. "Got it."

And the words crowd up into Tim's throat like bile, when
your only choices are spit or vomit. "It's going to be all
right, you know. I mean... you're not... you're not *us*.
You're the freaking Justice League, and you've got more
happy endings than this whole fucking city, all right?

"You're all licking your wounds and being bitter now, but
you'll get over it."

"Because we have to."

"Mostly because it's who you *are*." And truth shouldn't
taste this bad, but... way down deep, Tim knows this is
where he belongs. Gotham. Nowhere else.

And Flash's look is so open, so heartfelt and wondering,
that Tim seriously considers wrenching the staff out of
the door and beating Flash with it.

"Flash --"

"Don't worry. I'm not about to get sappy or anything.

"Right." Tim stands up and stretches, moving toward
his staff, wondering which roundabout route he'll have
to use to get back to the Cave, and whether there's
any point to trying to evade someone who moves faster
than he can blink.


"What." There's a hand on his shoulder, warm and
solid. Flash's gloves are *gloves*. Not gauntlets. A

"I wanted... you don't. I'm not going to make it harder
on him."

Tim lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding.
Turns around when he can smile. "Thanks."

And it's strange to watch a man's face work when it's
half-hidden. Like being forced to watch a fight behind a
curtain. Dick doesn't actually *let* himself have
expressions like that when he's being Nightwing. And
Bruce... is something else entirely. And Flash still looks
like he's chewing on something big and nasty.


Flash shakes his head. "You know, I would always
wonder about you guys, here. Even before. How you
dealt with... everything."

"There's no secret."

"No?" Quicksilver flare of a smile.

"Look, Flash, it's been a long --" And the rest of it winds
up muffled in red spandex. *Spandex*. No armor at all,
and Tim can't decide if that's more or less bizarre than
the fact that he's getting a hug.

He gives it back, awkwardly, and when Flash pulls
back... he's not smiling. His mouth is a little slack, and
this close Tim can see how wide his eyes are, even
behind the mask. There's a part of him that doesn't
really want to know what he isn't seeing.


He zips to the edge of the roof, gripping the railing in
flexing fists. "I'm... uh. I'm gonna go. Tell Batman...
tell him I just came by to thank him for the assist,
okay? He'll know what I mean."

Tim nods. "Will do. You're heading home?"

"Yeah, I... you know the thing about friends, Robin?"

"Tell me."

Rush of air, *personal* air, and Flash is right there,
hand sliding down the outside of his arm just a little
too fast.


"You can always make new ones." He squeezes Tim's
hand in his own. "Friends, I mean."

And then he really *is* gone, and Tim... isn't sure what
he's supposed to do with any of it.

He retrieves his staff and spins it a few times, going
through the basic defenses more to warm himself up
again than for any other reason.

Flash is... he's going to have to pay more attention to
Bruce's files. Maybe make a few of his own.


He has a patrol to finish.